Brand, Joel JenŐ

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BRAND, JOEL JENŐ (1906–1964), member of Va'adat Ezrah va-Haẓẓalah, the Budapest Jewish relief committee set up during World War ii and the courier chosen by Adolph Eichmann to offer Hungarian Jews in exchange for goods, in what became known as the "Blood for Trucks" offer. Brand, who was born in Naszód, moved to Erfurt, Germany, with his family in 1910. Active in Communist politics, he traveled to the United States, the Far East, and Latin America, returning to Germany in 1927. He was injured in a Communist-Nazi fight in 1933 but was expelled from Germany in the summer of 1934. He escaped to Transylvania and from there went to Budapest, where he joined *Po'alei Zion, and at a Zionist training farm met Hansi Hartmann, whom he married in 1935. From 1938 Brand was active in a semi-clandestine organization for helping Jewish refugees flee into Hungary, which until March 1944 was allied with but independent of Germany. He established contact with Abwehr (German military intelligence) agents under Admiral Canaris who were then secretly working in Hungary. In January 1943 the Va'adat Ezrah va-Haẓẓalah was formally established in Budapest under the leadership of Ottó *Komoly, aided by Rezső (Rudolf) *Kasztner. Brand was the main liaison between the Va'adah and the Abwehr, which had been disbanded in Febuary 1944. As a member of this committee, Brand met Adolf *Eichmann, upon whose orders he left for neutral Turkey on May 17, 1944, to present the Jewish Agency with a German proposition to exchange the lives of Hungarian Jews for goods: Eichmann used trucks as an example, one million Jews for 10,000 trucks that would be used only on the Eastern front against the Soviet Union. Brand traveled to Turkey with Bandi Grosz, a double agent on a separate but not unrelated mission who was to initiate discussions with the Allies regarding a separate peace. With the German position collapsing after the defeats at Stalingrad and El-Alamein, the only hope for Germany to avoid total defeat was to split the British, American, and Soviet alliance. Eichmann was acting on the orders of *Himmler – without Hitler's knowledge and without the knowledge of the Foreign Office, which would have objected that the SS was moving in on its area of responsibility. The offer to rescue Jews may have been based on Himmler's exaggerated perception that Jews could effectively change American policy of total surrender, while the offer of a separate peace was rooted in the impending collapse of Germany. Upon arrival, Brand met with the representatives of the Jewish Agency in Istanbul, who understood the importance of the offer and hoped to prolong the negotiations in order to forestall the deportation of Hungarian Jews, which commenced on May 15, two days before Brand's departure. An emissary was immediately dispatched to Jerusalem to brief David *Ben-Gurion and Moshe Shertok (*Sharett). The Jewish Agency concluded that Shertok should travel immediately to Turkey, but Turkish authorities refused to issue a visa. Brand's offer was considered by the Americans and the British, who were fearful that the transfer of so large a population would interfere with the war effort and who were as a matter of principle not interested in a separate peace. They sensed that the Germans were trying to create a wedge between the Allies and the Soviet Union and to blame the Allies for the failure to halt the deportation of Hungarian Jews. Thus, both missions were doomed to failure. American officials insisted that the Russians be informed of the offer, which in essence gave the Soviet Union veto power. Their reasoning was that it was better for the Russians to hear of this offer directly from the Americans than to learn of it through their own intelligence services in Istanbul, where their suspicions would be aroused. Within weeks "the blood for goods" offer was leaked to the press; an article was published in the New York Herald Tribune. The London Times called the story one of "most loathsome of the war." Press exposure effectively killed any hope for the offer. Unable to have Shertok travel to Istanbul, Brand set off for Palestine. He was arrested in Aleppo, Syria, by the British, who claimed that they suspected him of being a Nazi agent, and was taken to Cairo. On October 7, 1944, some three months after the deportation of Hungarian Jews had ended, he was released in Jerusalem.

Brand, a defeated and bitter man, remained in Ereẓ Israel; he became a member of the Stern Gang and testified at the Kasztner trial in 1954. The Brand mission was featured prominently at the trial, though in the end it was not regarded as germane to the judgment. The Jewish Agency was accused by the defense of sabotaging the attempted rescue. Brand devoted himself single-mindedly to tracking down Nazi war criminals. Both Brand and his wife, who was also active in the Va'adat Ezrah va-Haẓẓalah, testified at the Eichmann trial that he had had direct contact with the accused. He died in Frankfurt, where he was testifying against Hermann Krumey and Otto Hunsche, two of Eichmann's chief aides. The story of Brand's mission was dramatized by Heinar Kipphardt in his play Die Geschichte eines Geschaefts (1965).


Weissberg, Advocate for the Dead (1958); E. Landau (ed.), Der Kastner-Bericht (1961); A. Biss, Der Stopp der Endloesung (1966); Y. Bauer, Jews for Sale: Nazi Jewish Negotiatons 1933–45 (1994); idem, The Holocaust in Historical Perspective (1978); R. Braham, The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary (1993).

[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]